GLENDALE, Ariz. — Because they didn’t go into Beast Mode, the Seattle Seahawks found themselves in Spin Mode after Super Bowl XLIX.
They were left to explain why they turned Marshawn Lynch – the running back known as “The Beast” – into a decoy with the game on the line and chose instead to pass the ball on second-and-goal from the 1.
“What transpired … will live in the annals of this league for as long as football games are played,” writes CBSSport.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora. “This series of decisions — including (the) bizarre call by Carroll to throw on second down on a route in the crowded middle of the field that will be second-guessed just as long …would culminate in Carroll giving a repeated, occasionally rapid-fire and awkward explanation of the thinking that ended up with rookie corner Malcolm Butler, a spare part all season, with the ball in his hands on a game-clinching interception in the end zone.
Butler intercepted the pass with 20 seconds left, to preserve New England’s 28-24 Super Bowl victory.
Within moments, the second-guessing had begun on what will surely be one of the most debated calls in NFL history.
“I made the decision. I said, ‘Throw the ball,”‘ coach Pete Carroll said. “Nobody to blame but me.”
But there was plenty of blame to go around. It started with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who may have gotten too cute and, as a result, found his name was a top trender on Twitter.
And the receiver, Ricardo Lockette, who Bevell said, “could have done a better job staying strong on the ball.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson wishes he had that pass back.
“I thought it was going to be a touchdown,” Wilson said. “But I put the blame on me. I’m the one who threw it.”
He also gave lots of credit to Butler, the rookie free agent out of West Alabama who made New England’s roster, then saved the Super Bowl.
“The guy made a great play,” Wilson said.
But this one was hard to explain away.
Seattle had a timeout left with the clock ticking down when Wilson fired into a cluster of blue and white shirts. Butler dug inside of Lockette and made his first career interception.
“I had a feeling I was going to make a big play today,” Butler said. “But not that big.”
Give credit where it’s due.
But about that play call again:
“Dumbest play call in the HISTORY of NFL football,” tweeted former 49ers receiver Dwight Clark, who made a pretty good grab himself: The Catch.
And this from NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith: “Worst play call I’ve seen in the history of football.”
It left them speechless in Seattle, too. Well, practically.
“We’ve got Marshawn Lynch, one of the best running backs in the league, and everybody makes their decisions and unfortunately, we didn’t give him the ball,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Carroll’s explanation: He saw the Patriots bring in a goal-line formation with eight big guys and three cornerbacks and didn’t think Lynch, who tied for the league lead with 13 touchdowns rushing this season, would be able to bull it in against that defense.
“It’s not a great matchup for us to run the football, so we were going to throw the ball, really to waste a play,” Carroll said. “If we score, we do, if we don’t, we’ll run it in on third or fourth down.”
Butler saw the stacked receivers on the right side of the field and said Wilson’s eyes tipped him off. He ducked inside of Lockette and made the play.
Quite a moment for a player who wasn’t drafted, wasn’t even signed to a contract right after the draft. He was an “invited tryout” player – offered a chance to show what he could do in May.
A long shot to make the roster, though Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner said he’s been proving he belongs all year. Browner, a former Seahawk, said Butler leads the team in interceptions during practice.
This game almost ended much differently for Butler. He was in coverage – good coverage – against Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse and appeared to bat the ball down for an incompletion. But as Kearse was falling, the ball bobbled between his legs, and he kept it in the air by batting it twice while tumbling. Kearse made the catch on his back for a 33-yard gain that gave Seattle a first-and-goal at the 5.
Butler went to the sideline.
“My teammates were saying, nine out of 10 times, that ball is incomplete,” he said. “It was devastating.”
A play later, Lynch had bulled the ball to the 1.
Seattle had a timeout and three plays to try to win the game.
“I thought it was going to be a touchdown when I threw it,” Wilson said. “When I let it go, I thought it was going to be ‘game over.'”
Turns out, he was right. But it was the Patriots holding the trophy.